Grade Your Chapters: Author ToolBox

It’s time for my March contribution to the #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop where dozens of authors post their thoughts on subjects of writing.  This month I discuss Grading Your Chapters. Slide1

I tend to write short chapters that shift by venue, time or maybe point of view.  My 325-page novels may have 40 or more chapters.  I find shorter chapters help the story progress rapidly and give readers a sense of achievement as they move through the novel.

After finishing a first draft and before I turn the manuscript over to Claudia (my editor), I read the book end to end to get a feel for continuity and flow, grading each chapter (1-poor to 5-excellent).  I’ll then return to focus on those chapters rated the lowest, but will eventually work to improve each of them.

The questions I ask as I grade the chapters include:

  • Does the first paragraph(s) grab you, pulling you forward?
  • Is anything new presented to the reader? If so, is it described or told as backdrop?
  • If new characters are introduced, are they compelling and needed for the plot?
  • Are there elements of intrigue, danger, excitement, or mystery? If not, what purpose does the chapter serve?
  • Does the end of the chapter leave the reader wanting more or does it just fall off?

One additional editing step that can be done at this time is running each chapter through a writing editor like ProWritingAid, Grammarly, or AutoCrit.  There are many other editors, and I’m not suggesting which one is the best, although I’m most familiar with ProWritingAid.  The output of these tools is voluminous, and it’s eventually the author’s decision on which recommendations to use.

I will typically read and edit my manuscript several times before having Claudia mark it up, but this chapter focus is a bite-sized way for me to tackle the first major revisions.

Not all chapters can be spinetinglers, but having a multi-chapter lull in a book is difficult to overcome.  It might lead to the reader placing the book or e-reader on the nightstand, never to return.  Grading your chapters can find these lulls before your readers discover them.


To enjoy other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, click HERE. Happy blogging!

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38 thoughts on “Grade Your Chapters: Author ToolBox

  1. I like the idea of grading chapters. What I learned from my editor is to make sure each chapter has a driving force that might offer new information or show something different about the main character. Thank you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds like a very good way to think about each chapter as a part of the whole. Sometimes, especially when editing, I lose that view because I’m looking at the whole. Sort of a “not seeing the forest for the trees” problem. I like your nice, succinct list of questions to focus on.

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  3. I’ve never graded my chapters before, but I do read through my books from end to end to check for flow, and if there are problems I make notes. Usually, it’s just problems with a scene and not the whole chapters.

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    1. Thanks for your comments and for managing this BlogHop. My grey beard belies my writing experience, and I find the posts from the much younger and more learned authors very informative. Great job!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Louise. My suggestions tend to be more simplistic than most I read on the AuthorToolBox. Even though I’ve been at this nearly 10 years, writing is a new trade for me, and I have a lot to learn.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Simple works. I used to go on to my clients that if you couldn’t summarize your big idea in one sentence, you didn’t know what you were talking about. Takes deep intelligence, hard work to make it simple!

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  4. Very good questions. I go through a similar process when reviewing a book.
    I find it helpful to create outlines that represent a 10% and 1% (roughly) word count when compared to the actual chapters.
    I also think your strategy of grading each chapter is a strong one. Granted, not all chapters can be amazing in the same way, but then again that’s exactly what makes for a good story, the variety of ups and downs.
    Granted, I have seen dialogue scenes written with the same intensity and fast paced “action” as a fight scene, but overall, it’s definitely about creating some nice alternating beats.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I did a Margie Lawson immersion a couple of years ago, and she asked us to grade each page out of 10 … and not stop editing until we’d hit 9.5. I’d actually forgotten that until reading your post, so thanks for the reminder!

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  6. I use ProWritingAid. It helps, but sometimes its suggestions are crazy.
    I like the idea of grading your chapters and zeroing in on the ones with the weakest grades. I tend to write very fast first drafts, so cleanup and editing shine are more difficult. Grading chapters or scenes will shine a light on what needs more attention.

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  7. Like most everyone else, I’ve never graded my chapters per se, but I do tend to look for the characteristics you listed in your questions, particularly the area of mystery and to determine if the chapter adds anything new. In writing mystery stories, often my chapters follow the path the sleuth takes to uncover the crime. Each chapter must add a bit more information (either to lead the protagonist to the killer or to distract her with a red herring.)

    Grading sounds like an interesting plan. I wish some of the authors I’ve read did that!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Author Toolbox Blog Hop: A Year in Review – E.M.A. Timar

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